Don't Forget the Middle Manager

Last Updated Nov 19, 2008 3:36 PM EST

Some more views on the 'forgotten' middle manager -- whose role is increasingly under pressure in companies facing financial belt-tightening.

"It's not the 'sexy' part of leadership," says Penny de Valk, CEO of the Institute of Leadership and Management -- middle managers are often accused of holding things up. But they are often given a plethora of non-joined-up initiatives that don't appear to relate to their roles.

"The idea of the 'working manager' (and how I loathe the term) comes from the notion you are a great individual contributor, and that the 'management' part of the job can be done in your copious spare time. The problem is that true management responsibilities -- coaching, employment reviews, communicating with individuals -- takes time and effort," says Wayne Turmel, "former corporate drone" and creator of The Cranky Middle Manager.

They are being asked to manage too many people, he adds -- seven to eight is the optimum.

If middle managers seem unresponsive or unable to juggle these roles, it is likely to be because they are only being measured and rewarded for their individual contribution, not for the 'extras' that constitute daily people management.

Says de Valk: "In the context of transformational leadership, there's an expectation of a more communicative style of management that requires a more developed -- sometimes completely different -- set of skills."

The upshot is that the role of the manager is fundamentally changing. The role is now about communicating, monitoring and facilitating decision-making.

Depending on the size of the manager's team, that may leave little time for the 'day job''. The role of managers is in a transitional phase, where they are still being expected to do their jobs and facilitate others. But how long can it last?

"The world of the middle manager is changing faster than the company's supporting mechanism," says Wayne Turmel. "Almost 70 per cent of middle managers have reports who work in a different location, but there's little training or support to help manage this new way of working. They are told to manage by walking around, but it's a long walk to Bucharest, baby."